scallop boats 1
Fishing boats rammed in row over scallops
01:12 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, visiting scholar at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and director of its Red Lines Project, is a contributor to CNN where his columns won the Deadline Club Award for Best Opinion Writing. Author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today,” he was formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Asia and Europe, where he learned to love coquilles Saint-Jacques. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his own; view more opinion at CNN.

CNN  — 

Forget territorial waters: Welcome to the Scallop Wars.

How often have I sat in a charming French inn, way out on the rocks of Normandy, and scarfed down a plate full of these delectable bivalve mollusks, sautéed to a golden brown?

And now, sacre bleu, those British fishermen not only want to take themselves out of the European Union, but take French scallops along with them?

Well, that’s the long and short of what’s turning, depending on which side of the Channel you find yourself, into a war of scallops – or coquilles Saint-Jacques.

British and French fishing vessels were involved in clashes in the English Channel on Tuesday over a longstanding dispute over scallop fishing regulations.

To simplify it – if anything involving British and French fishermen can be truly simplified – it’s a matter of just whose fishing boats can take more of these delectable items out of the sea and on to dinner tables.

It’s probably pretty clear which side I come down on in this battle. I can see the British point of view. But let’s face it: someone is sticking their nets in places where they shouldn’t be.

Most of the fishing for scallops actually takes place beyond the 12-mile limit where International waters begin. Still, the most fecund scallop beds are located in a region known as the Baie de Seine.

This name alone ought to pretty much tell you who these waters – or at least the scallops that feed off the effluent – should belong to.

Still, the French fishermen have been quite chivalrous in allowing their British counterparts to troll there. Until now.

The French have long believed, quite rightly in my view, that the Brits have a big advantage since French maritime authorities don’t let scallop fishing begin for their countrymen until October – to preserve the stock and allow them to repopulate in peace.

But the Brits have no such constraints. They go where they want, when they want.

And they bring in their large factory ships from as far as Scotland to take what they please, within the quite liberal – the French would say overly liberal – EU quotas.

That’s where the most recent battle took place.

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    A half dozen mammoth British ships and some 35 tiny French boats, descended on the interlopers from the likes of Port-en-Bessin, Courseilles, Ouistreham, Trouville, Honfleur and Le Havre, buzzing around, throwing smoke bombs, even ramming the British behemoths.

    Dimitri Rogoff, head of the Norman fishermen’s committee told the British Guardian newspaper that “we don’t want to stop them from fishing, but they could at least wait until Oct. 1 so that we can share.” Sounds sporting, non?

    Smoke bombs and rocks were thrown as French and British boats clashed on Tuesday.

    Well it would, except then there’s Brexit that’s lurking in the shadows. The Common Fisheries Policy should govern boats from all the EU member states – regulating quotas and a whole lot of other issues that are dear to the hearts of scallop fishers.

    Now, with Britain on the way out of the EU, though, the French fear for their scallops will not be a red herring by any definition of the term. And as far as I’m concerned, we’re certainly not talking herring here.

    So just how much is really at stake and who should give in? Well, the stakes are big enough to have made it the floor of the French parliament.

    A boat fishing on the English Channel, near Ouistreham, France, where clashes took place.

    Sébastien Jumel, a member of what’s left of the French Communist Party, mayor of the town of Dieppe and member of Parliament, rose on the floor on Wednesday and demanded passionately that the Macron government “urgently seek the adoption of rules common to all French and foreign professionals who practice fishing for scallops. Our French fishermen use artisanal fishing methods to respect resources. But they are increasingly confronted with fishing vessels flying the English flag, some of which are more than 100 feet, and which are practicing massive and irresponsible industrial fishing, dangerously eroding the resources of the sea.”

    Dangerous indeed.

    My only hope is that when I return to Paris at the end of September, the Brits will have left enough coquilles Saint-Jacques for me to feast on so that I do not have to take the Chunnel to London for a scallop dinner.